The Jump Artist

( 10 )


Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature

“A remarkable work . . . [that] documents a triumph of the human spirit over tremendous adversity.”—Harper’s

“This elegantly-written tribute makes as beautiful a use of the darkness and light of one man’s life as a Halsman photograph of a pretty young woman.”—GQ

"Ratner weaves a psychologically arresting fiction from these facts, imagining the creep of Nazism in 1928 ...

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The Jump Artist

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Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature

“A remarkable work . . . [that] documents a triumph of the human spirit over tremendous adversity.”—Harper’s

“This elegantly-written tribute makes as beautiful a use of the darkness and light of one man’s life as a Halsman photograph of a pretty young woman.”—GQ

"Ratner weaves a psychologically arresting fiction from these facts, imagining the creep of Nazism in 1928 Europe."—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A beautifully scrupulous, intricately detailed novel about joy and despair, anti-Semitism and assimilation, and like a great photograph, it seems to miss nothing, and to catch its subject in all his complexity.”—Charles Baxter

Philippe Halsman is famous for his photographs of celebrities jumping in the air, for putting Marilyn Monroe (among countless others) on the cover of Life Magazine, and for his bizarre collaborations with surrealist Salvador Dalí (“Dalí Atomicus,” Dalí’s Mustache). What is not well known is his role in the “Austrian Dreyfus Affair,” which rocked Europe in the years leading up to WWII. While hiking in the Tyrolean Alps, Philippe’s father was brutally murdered when Philippe went ahead on the trail. The year was 1928, Nazism was on the rise and Philippe, a Jewish 22 year old from Latvia, was charged with the murder. He spent several years in an Austrian prison and the trial became a public scandal that pitted many prominent intellectuals, including Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, against the rising tide of fascism.

The Jump Artist is evocative psychological fiction based on this true story. Austin Ratner has extensively researched Halsman’s life and tells the extraordinary tale of a man who transforms himself from a victim of rampant anti-Semitism into a purveyor of the marvelous.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In his debut, Ratner fictionalizes the story of Philippe Halsman, a renowned photographer who, as a young man in interwar Austria, had his life forever changed by an anti-Semitic kangaroo court. In the novel, "Philipp Halsman" and his father, Max, were hiking when, as Philipp looked away, Max fell off the lip of a cliff and died. The locals testified that Philipp murdered his father, whipping up an anti-Semitic frenzy. After time in prison and his banishment from Austria, Philipp attempts to build his life abroad with the burden of having been believed a murderer; only his mother and a small faction of intellectuals are convinced of his innocence. Ratner's recreation of Philipp's tortured psyche can be wearying, and Philipp's awkwardness-from his jailhouse fixations to the guilt and self-loathing that play so heavily in his life-serve to make him more of an enigma for the reader than probably intended. But, in a broader context, the story has tremendous resonance, given what had yet to come. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781934137154
  • Publisher: Bellevue Literary Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2009
  • Pages: 300
  • Sales rank: 806,228
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Austin Ratner

Austin Ratner’s debut novel, The Jump Artist, received the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and was featured in Publishers Weekly as one of the ten most promising debuts. Before turning his focus to creative writing, Ratner received his M.D. from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, co-authored the textbook Concepts in Medical Physiology, and was Clinical Assistant Professor of Preventive Medicine at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine. He is the recipient of a Sun Valley Writers’ Conference Fellowship and his work has been honored with the Missouri Review Editors’ Prize in Fiction. Ratner grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, has attended the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and two sons.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 25, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    A Leap of Fate

    This is a highly fictionalized account of the life of Philippe Halsman. As a young man, Halsman was falsely accused of murdering his father while on a hiking trip in the Austrian Alps. The fact he was Jewish may have been a factor in his arrest. After two traumatic years in prison, his family managed to secure him a pardon. He worked hard to reinvent himself as a photographer in France in the late 1930's. When the war encroached on Paris, he managed to flee to America with his family. After years of adjustment he would eventually establish himself as a leading photographer for Life magazine capturing many of the most notable faces of the twentieth century. The writing is often pedantic, dark, and hard to follow due to a train of thought style. The constant infusion of foreign phrases, mostly German, while adding atmosphere, also slow down the flow. It's almost as hard to get through this book as it was for Halsman to achieve his fame.

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  • Posted September 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    An Absorbing, Literate, Impressive Debut Novel

    Austin Ratner joins the ranks of physicians-turned-writers (Rabelais, Keats, Chekhov, Somerset Maugham, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, William Carlos Williams, Michael Crichton, Khaled Hosseini, etc) in this very impressive debut novel THE JUMP ARTIST, a 'fictionalized biographical novel' of Philippe Halsman, considered to be one of the world's top 10 photographers. Ratner proves himself to be not only a fine investigative historian, but also a writer adept at exploring several languages and countries and enhancing the character perception of some very famous people. And he accomplishes this with a gift for story telling that promises he will be around for a significant new career!

    THE JUMP ARTIST, a title given to Halsman as a photographer who achieved complex demands on celebrities who served as his models: 'Everyone jumps (quite literally) when Halsman commands.' But to understand this gifted photographer's approach to his art, author Ratner takes us back to Halsman's childhood when in 1929 he was accused and abruptly imprisoned for the death of his father - an unsolved incident when Halsman was hiking with his father, his father fell and died, and circumstantial evidence (real or placed) lead to an anti-Semitic kangaroo court convicting him of murder/patricide. Released from prison with tuberculosis and a broken spirit, Halsman's family and friends and nurse him back to health and Halsman discovers the art of photography, moves to Paris, and becomes - gradually and with the backing of such celebrities as Andre Gide and Albert Einstien - becomes a renowned photographer. Between the anti-Semitism that flooded Europe during and after World War II Halsman proved himself not only a survivor of his self-imposed guilt but also his surviving the purge of Jews.

    Ratner makes his writing more solid by using quotes form the famous people in Halsman's life/story. For example, he introduces his book with Andre Gide's statement ' fiction is history which MIGHT have taken place, and history is fiction which HAS taken place.' Later in the book, when Halsman is photographing Gide he adapts the language of Gide to further create his drama: "Some people speak of 'finding oneself'.....but most people don't know what that means, They think of themselves as a mystery to be found out. But no one is a mystery. Everyone is what they always were. The courageous thing is to be who one always was and to find in the world those people and places that are like oneself.' Ratner unfolds his story slowly, carefully, rich with atmospheric descriptions of settings - from the filth and agony of prisons to the beauty of the Alps and the excitement of the streets of Paris. It all comes together to enhance our understanding of a man we know only as a famous photographer in a novel whose title not only recalls the 'jump technique' of a camera genius, but also the 'jump accident' of his father' that started it all. This is fine writing and a solid introduction to another physician novelist!

    Grady Harp

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  • Posted May 23, 2009

    life changing

    "The Jump Artist" is one of those books that will stay with you forever--a classic like D.M. Thomas's "The White Hotel," that shows how the forces of history resonate in the life of one person. Philipp Halsmann, a 22-year-old Latvian Jew, is falsely accused of his father's murder while hiking in Austria, where the terrifying malevolence of a rooted and superstitious anti-semitism is re-emerging. The horrors of the imprisonment and trial endanger his life, even after his pardon through the intervention of such men as Freud and Einstein; he is tormented by feelings of shame and guilt, and enraged at a world he can't control. The novel is intensely suspenseful, posing a primal, ultimate question: can someone recover desire and meaning when stripped of everything, and so save his own life? One reason we read the literature of the Holocaust, people like Elie Weisel and Primo Levi, is to understand how to live in the aftermath of the unimaginable. This book, with great beauty and passion, shows us how.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A wonderful story, beautifully written

    Ratner proves that historical fiction can be true literature. As he depicts Halsman's traumatic experiences of loss and victimization as a young adult, he parallels the psychological devastation with the callousness and cruelty of the coming Nazi regime set against a forbidding physical landscape, the Austrian Alps. In prose that is moving, compelling, and yet easily readable, Ratner draws the reader into a truly resonant story of a life torn apart and a life rebuilt. If you look at the successful Halsman's wonderful photographs, you feel that Ratner's imagined Halsman had the depth to produce works of art. In this novel, fiction, literature, art and truth come together in a beautifully structured and written whole.

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  • Posted May 6, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Electrifying and resonant story

    Ratner's The Jump Artist is at one time a great thriller, a moving and psychological study, and beautiful literature. The story of Philippe Halsman's rigged trial at the hands of the anti-semitic powers in Austria in the late 1920's is a dramatic and true story of an individual's traumatic experience, as well as his subsequent guilt and shame. At the same time, it is a picture of an historical era that was the precursor to the devestation to come. The suspense of the trial captures the reader from the first page; the ability of Halsman to construct a life after his experiences, a life that is meaningful and redemptive, carries the reader through to the end of this remarkable debut novel. Ratner's writing is beautiful and masterful. This book is an absolute treat.

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  • Posted May 6, 2009

    Jump Artist taps into every emotion possible.

    Jump Artist is not a book that can be read passively. Beginning with the author's note, the reader is faced with drama, pain, love, humor, and psychology. I didn't want it to end. As I closed the book, I went directly to the computor to learn more about Halsman. Ratner was the first person to reveal the portion of Halsman's life that influenced his artistry as a photographer. Ratner captured Halsman's portrait through words. I can't wait to discuss this at our next book club.

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    Posted December 11, 2011

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    Posted December 4, 2011

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    Posted October 20, 2011

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    Posted July 25, 2011

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